Canada's meat inspection system safe, says cattlemen's group in wake of critical U.S. audit
'Our food safety record is, I think, quite exemplary'
Claims by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that it found "systemic" problems around food inspection in Canada should not alarm consumers, according to a spokesperson for Canadian beef producers.
The most "significant" concern, U.S. auditors said, was that Canadian government plant inspectors were not checking for residual feces and digestive waste materials on each carcass in slaughterhouses prior to export.
"Our food safety record is, I think, quite exemplary," said Rob McNabb, general manager of the Calgary-based Canadian Cattlemen's Association.
"I would put it on par with the U.S. or other countries of similar nature."
The American audit pointed out about 60,000 kilograms of Canadian meat and poultry products were rejected by the United States for "various public health reasons" between 2013 and 2015.
Some of the audits happened in Alberta.
McNabb said there is little difference in standards and safety between Canada and the United States, and he noted it's not possible to inspect for microscopic food-borne pathogens on carcasses.
"And so, we're quite confident in the other food safety critical control points within the chain of carcass production. And we have a very high level of confidence in the type of food safety measures that are taken before the carcass it broken down further and presented to consumers," he said.
Systems developed in tandem
"Our systems have developed, and quite frankly our systems are based on, companies that own plants in Canada and the U.S.," he said.
"So I find it extraordinary that one country would have a bigger issue than another."
The United States requires carcasses to be inspected by a government inspector to confirm they aren't contaminated before they are stamped "inspected and passed." The rule applies both to meat from the U.S. and carcasses imported into the country.
The U.S. government could temporarily ban Canadian plants from exporting their products to the United States if the requirements aren't met.
An E. coli outbreak at XL Foods in Alberta in 2012 was detected by U.S. inspectors and led to the largest meat recall in Canadian history.
The Agriculture Union, which represents food inspectors in Canada, says the country needs more front-line inspectors.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency declined a CBC News request for an interview but issued a statement insisting Canada's food system is safe.
The agency added that discussions with its U.S. counterparts to address the Americans' concerns are "ongoing."